The mills were the largest employers of labour in the communities where they were situated and they played an active role in supporting and developing local community spirit. As a result, the mills were often at the social heart of worker's lives. Most labour came from the villages surrounding the mills, with many members and different generations from the same family working together.
This section documents every aspect of the mill worker's lives. Topics can be seen to the left. For each section there are links which will take you to the oral transcripts of people whose lives were shaped by the mills.
Starting work in the mill The Mills were the largest employers in the community in which they were situated and as thus were the focus of the community. Most of the mills employees came from surrounding villages with many generations of the same family working together. Former employees even speak about the family atmosphere within the mills. For this reason jobs were generally not advertised and people simply applied to the mill if they wanted a job or found out there was one available through their family or neighbours. "You'd find that a mother and daughter were up there and the father probably worked in the machine house. And the uncle worked in the roasters or the sister in law" Former overhauler in Galloways Mill When the need for labour in the mills grew in the 1960s employees were bussed in from various areas of Edinburgh and as far afield as West Calder. However there were no formal apprenticeships within the mills, employees simply started on a process where they were needed and progressed when there was an opening in another department. "The gaffer worked two –lived two or three doors away and he asked if there were vacancies because we, we were needing workers. And he heard I was leaving school. So 'Go start on Monday' and that was it." Former overhauler at Kinleith
The mills were the major employers in the community and as thus were the focus of the community. Annual trips were provided for workers and their families, John Galloway and Sons also took the local postmaster and policeman on trips. Holidays in the mills were usually two weeks in summer as a trades holiday, one day in April and one day in September. Until the 1950s New Year was considered a Scottish holiday and Christmas an English holiday. It was not uncommon for people to work through Christmas and have two days off at New Year.
"New Years Day was the only day you got off until, oh, many years after. And they start- but you could take a holiday, but you got no wages". Former worker in the Salle at Kinleith Mill.
The Mills were heavily involved in many areas of social life within the community. Galloways owned the community hall, the tennis courts, bowling green. Many mills had their own football team which played in the Edinburgh league. Woodhall had a social committee which ran various events and a fishing club which would go on trips to various locations in Scotland, this was funded by a 'numbers lottery' which employees would contribute to. On the annual gala day employees would take part and lorries from the mill would be decorated and take part in the parade. Annual dances of the mills would be held often in Balerno village hall or at the Glenburn Hotel in Currie.
"And the mill used to- they didn't have holidays at that time and they used to in the summertime hire a train and it took all the employees away for a day." Former overhauler in Galloways Mill
Many mills on the Water of Leith took responsibility for organising or sponsoring social events for their employees and those who lived in the villages where the mills were based. Villages along the Water of Leith, especially as far along the river from Edinburgh as Currie and Balerno, were quite separate from Edinburgh city centre. Most socialising took place locally and a lot of it was based in and around the mill. Annual dances were organised by mill employees, these were either subsidised or paid for by the mills and were often held at the Glenburn Hotel in Currie.
Annual trips were provided by mills for workers and their families and places visited included Ayr and Largs. Galloways Mill also took others from the local community on the trips including the local postmaster and policeman. Trips were usually paid for by mills, but employees of Inglis Mill paid for their trips by selling scrap paper back to the mill for use in the papermaking process.
Aside from these activities employees organised societies and teams; many mills had their own football team which played in the Edinburgh league. Woodhall mill had its own social committee which ran various events including a fishing club that would visit many different areas to fish in Scotland. These trips were funded by a 'numbers lottery' which employees would contribute to.
Mills would also participate in local events, Currie and Balerno had its own gala day for the local community. Lorries were loaned from the local mills and these were decorated by employees into floats to take part in the gala parade.
The mills ran continuously on a 24-hour basis, some only stopping for the trade's weekend in August, others would cease production on Saturday lunchtime and begin again on a Sunday night. Most employees worked either on a three or four shift system and breaks were taken at machines. This was different for those who worked in the salle, the office or the lab who generally worked normal office hours.
"The horn, we used to call it the hooter, used to sound at seven o' clock and I'd be belting hell for leather down that road to get in at – because they used to dock you if you were one minute late." Woman from Galloways Mill
The villages along the Water of Leith greatly increased in size when mills and industrialisation moved to the area. Mill owners realised that to attract employees they would have to provide accommodation. They therefore provided mill houses close to the mills for employees of all ranks.
"It was known as piani row because when they all moved in there em they were all sorta well to do as it were compared to the labourers and others. A, a piano was hoisted into each of the six houses and that was a sort- you know a sign of respectability in those days." Company Secretary, John Galloway and Sons